Mapping Tanzania's forest resources

Tanzania will soon complete the country’s first ever comprehensive forest inventory.  The National Forest Resources Monitoring and Assessment project or NAFORMA marks the biggest effort yet by a developing nation to map all of its forest resources.


One third of Tanzania is forest and it’s estimated that approximately 1% of that forest is lost annually to deforestation.  Now, the government, together with the FAO, and with the financial support of government of Finland, is mapping the entire country to assess its forest resources including the size of the carbon stock stored within its forests.  This information will feed into better policymaking to ensure Tanzania’s most valuable forests are either conserved or utilized in a sustainable way.  This would help mitigate climate change but would also help the country in other ways such as managing its water resources and sustaining biodiversity and rural livelihoods

Even without climate change and carbon sequestration on the global development agenda, monitoring the state of forest resources is still important for the sustainable development of any country FAO’s Chief Technical Advisor on NAFORMA, Soren Dalsgaard. 

REDD+ initiative

The project is one of 5 pilot projects around the world overseen by the FAO and funded by the government of Finland. The pilot projects were announced in 2009, in response to calls from the United Nations for developing nations to reduce their emissions through deforestation and degradation (REDD).  Tanzania’s soon to be completed inventory will help the country meet its requirements under REDD+ . 

The main aim of the REDD initiative is to provide an incentive for countries to attempt to capture the excessive carbon within the atmosphere to their forests.  So actually NAFORMA or the national forest assessment in Tanzania is measuring our forest resources and out of that we will develop baseline information on how much carbon we have stored in our forests.   Then, if we can add carbon to those stores, REDD will pay for the additional carbon, Nurdin Chamuya, the National Project Coordinator of NAFORMA working for the Tanzanian Forestry Service.

In Tanzania, the 16 NAFORMA field teams have spent the past two years travelling the length and breadth of the country, gathering information from 3,400 different sites.  The field data they have collected includes both biophysical data about the trees and landscape and socio economic information gathered through interviews with local people. 

We have learned a lot from NAFORMA.  One, that it is possible to take an inventory of all tree resources in country but this is not a simple job.  It needs resources, it needs money and it needs people who are well trained, committed and healthy.  The most interesting thing we are looking at now as the data gathering draws to a close, is when we will be able to estimate timber for villagers at the smallest locations. Professor Malimbwi.

Soil carbon

©FAO/Simon MainaThe field teams are not only gathering information on the trees, they are also assessing soil and its carbon content.   Soil’s contribution to climate change is not yet fully understood but forest soils act as massive carbon stores.  When the plants in the soil are productive, the soil absorbs carbon.  Activities such as decomposition in the soil and deforestation release carbon from the soil, significantly increasing the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. 

Soil stores two times as much as either living plants or the atmosphere, so it is really important.  And the problem is that we don’t know yet how this carbon stored in the soil can be released to the atmosphere if the land use for example changes from forestry to agriculture.   And this is one of the questions that the NAFORMA soil survey is trying to address. FAO Forestry officer, Anssi Pekkarinen.

The soil samples are being analyzed at the Sokoine University of Agriculture in the Tanzanian city of Morogoro.

The wealth of information being gathered by the NAFORMA project will help inform better policy making that supports both forest conservation and environmentally friendly utilization of land including sustainable farming methods.  It is hoped the project will serve as an example to other developing countries that sustainable forest management is more environmentally friendly and, in the long run, more profitable than the unsustainable alternative.


last updated:  Thursday, March 28, 2013